It is easy to establish that science has long been skewed towards celebrating ‘Great Men’ and male ways of working. For a host of reasons, attempts to up the participation rate of women in science have been marked more by enthusiasm and aspiration than actual runs on the board. In business too, women are still drastically underrepresented (and a recent report shows that the low number of women in CEO positions has stubbornly refused to shift).
Given that so much of this is known, and that most people of a progressive orientation would regret this state of affairs, this Australian documentary is probably going to appeal primarily to a pre-committed audience.
Ili Baré’s film tells the story of a trip to the Antarctic by a group of women in STEMM. She has some wonderful scenery to shoot from the boat of course, and footage of adorable penguins and, less felicitously, walls of sea ice prematurely melting into the ocean, give plenty of scope for visual pleasure. This least explored continent is still a place of wonder.
Baré needs grit though, to get purchase on the icy surfaces, and she therefore focusses on the emerging tense relations between the expedition’s organisers and the various scientists. The trip is a corporate training exercise (in female leadership) run by Fabian Dattner. She is very much at the heart of the whole enterprise (though she does have a male sidekick, who has the sense to take a back seat), and she clearly believes in her mission. The problem is that team building exercises and corporate management-training jargon don’t go down too well with these highly educated and rationally-orientated women. It is either too touchy feely or doesn’t have much sociological purchase on patriarchal inequalities. So, we get little side interviews to camera from the dissenters which can then be held against Fabian explaining herself to camera.
At one point, when Fabian is going through one of her endless debriefing sessions, all the scientists run to the windows because there is a whale breaching alongside the boat. Fabian seems mildly irritated by this rush to distraction but then the whales are more interesting, and nearer to why the women went there in the first place. To be fair, Fabian does grow and change during the arc of the narrative but by that stage many viewers may be past caring or simply be longing for a lot more of that wonderful animal footage.